Mother Tongue Education and Human Rights

Speech by Lim Fong Seng at Kepala Batas, Penang on 2nd  October 1986

(Translated by How Xian Neng, 2014)

A great passion for mother tongue education has always been a commendable tradition of the Malaysian Chinese community. Chinese education in Malaysia has had a history of 167 years since   the founding of the first Chinese “School of the Fifth Happiness” at Penang in 1819. We have overcome many challenges and yet today, mother tongue education for the Chinese and Tamils in this country is still in need of proper protection and attention. We are still trying to survive in an unfavourable environment.

UMNO’s stance on mother tongue education

My compatriots, before the general election leaders of the government kept making promises regarding the development of mother tongue education. These promises are still fresh in our minds. On the 21st February this year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir indicated in a speech at Kluang Chong Hwa High School that the government has no intention in limiting the development of mother tongue education and that all ethnic groups have the right to operate their own schools.

Then on 15th March at Ipoh Shen Jai High School, the Prime Minister promised that the government would review Section 21(2) of the Education Act 1961 to ease the concern of the Chinese community. Again on  the 20th July,  Minister of  Education Anwar Ibrahim declared at Permatang Pauh[ Permatang Pauh was Anwar Ibrahim’s political stronghold, where he served   as MP from 1982 to 1999] that, should the BN be elected into office Section 21(2) of the Education Act 1961 would be amended in parliament. Once the Act has been amended, the Minister of Education would not have the power to convert a National-type primary school into a National primary school at will. Furthermore, on the 30th July deputy prime minister Ghafar Baba made a promise at Jinjang, Kuala Lumpur that Chinese and Tamil primary schools would always exist in Malaysia.

However, after the election we have heard a totally different tune in the UMNO general assembly and that of its youth group. UMNO Youth education chairman Mohamed Fahmi Ibrahim openly said that Chinese and Tamil primary schools have not made any contributions to the nation since independence, and that their existence offers no value or advantage to the nation. He proposed that the government closes   all Chinese and Tamil primary schools and instead build an education system with so-called “real Malaysian spirit”.

Another UMNO representative, Mohammad Juma described the Education Act 1961 Section 21(2) as a perfect clause, a rare gem of political wisdom. On 20th September, Minister of Education Anwar Ibrahim also told UMNO assembly that the Ministry of Education would not compromise in its implementation of the national education policy. Furthermore, the Ministry of education would be modernised to better execute its education and language policy. He claimed that asking the government and UMNO to consider relaxing relevant policies was both futile and unreasonable and should this be allowed, the ministry of education would propose an amendment bill in alignment with UMNO’s outlook.

On the very same day, the UMNO general assembly voted through four proposals, one of which was an education proposal submitted by Fahmi Ibrahim representing UMNO youth. The proposal urged the government to further enforce the national education policy and adopt an uncompromising stance towards any criticism of the said policy.

UMNO’s reversal of its stand soon after the election was so blatant and sudden that people have questioned the sincerity of UMNO’s promise to the people. At the same time, people must ask: “What is the national education policy of our nation?”


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